Activists Protest Alaska in NYC

'HOWL-INS': Friends of Animals seeks support against wolf-control program

Liz Ruskin / Anchorage Daily News / December 28, 2003


"Save a wolf. Sign a postcard. Boycott Alaska," Bob Orabona called out to the crowd rushing past Rockefeller Center.

Orabona works in the Connecticut headquarters of Friends of Animals, the group that staged the protest.

His sign showed a howling wolf with a cross hairs drawn over its chest.

"Alaska is planning a heart-stopping wildlife spectacle," the placard read. "They call it 'management.' We call it murder."

Friends of Animals is staging 32 such demonstrations around the country in the last weekend of the year to protest the state's wolf-control plan, which calls for shooting about 40 wolves in the McGrath area with the help of aircraft. The group is calling for a tourism boycott on Alaska until the program is canceled.

Wolf-control advocates in Alaska say the wolves have grown too plentiful in some areas and are killing too many moose that human hunters rely on to feed their families.

Friends of Animals calls shooting wolves from airplanes barbaric. The organization printed 50,000 postcards for the weekend. Addressed to Gov. Frank Murkowski, the cards say the wolf-shooting program "is an ethical outrage and (a) national disgrace."

Though burdened with shopping bags -- Coach, Kenneth Cole, Cole-Haan -- and jostled by other hurrying pedestrians, many people paused to take in the dozen protesters.

Kelly Lyons, a 29-year-old in a plaid schoolgirl skirt, fishnet stockings and black boots, let her furry purse dangle from her wrist as she signed her name to a postcard.

"I have a problem with animal-hunting in general," she said.

Although no one was making the state's case Saturday, Lyons surmised the reason behind the wolf shoot is to control an overpopulation of predators.

"I just think it's a fine line between calling it an overpopulation and humans intruding on their territory," said Lyons, who said she has a degree in environmental biology.

Lyons recoiled when asked whether her shearling jacket and purse were made of fake fur.

"Of course!" she asserted. "I would NEVER."

Dozens of women, though, did walk by in long fur coats. Most averted their eyes when they caught on to the protesters' cause. But a few fur-bearing matrons signed the group's postcards, said Elizabeth Forel. Forel, of Manhattan, was one of the clipboard-carrying volunteers urging shoppers to "help us save these magnificent wild animals from slaughter."

"Sometimes people just don't make the connection," Forel lamented.

Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, was among the activists collecting signatures in the brisk wind.

She hopes the call for a tourism boycott plays out as it did in 1992, when her group led a campaign against a similar Alaska wolf-reduction program. Then-Gov. Wally Hickel and the state Department of Fish and Game received more than 100,000 letters and phone calls objecting to the plan. Hickel, under pressure from Alaska's tourism industry, halted the shoot.

Murkowski said this month that he's concerned about a tourism boycott but is holding firm. He said people who are enchanted by the majesty of wolves "never look at the majesty of the moose calf and the right for that calf to reproduce."

Feral joined Friends of Animals in 1974, shortly before the group first stepped into Alaska's long-running debate about whether and how to reduce the number of wolves.

Feral is a fine-boned 54-year-old with a long, blond shag and a daughter in art school. She sees her concern for animal rights as a natural outgrowth of her generation's fight against the Vietnam War, the women's movement and other social justice activism.

"The best of all rights is the right for a free-living animal to be left alone," she said.

Wolves "are sentient. Humans are sentient," she said. "Certainly, shooting wolves to make moose hunting easier lacks any kind of justice."
Feral doesn't like to answer questions about her surname, but yes, she chose it, back in the '70s. She was getting divorced and, not being Irish, didn't feel like keeping her ex-husband's Irish name.

"So, feral: a domestic animal gone wild. In 1974 that appealed to me," she said.

The demonstrations were billed as "howl-ins," but there was no howling at the New York event.

A big white dog named Katana was supposed to lead the chorus, but the Turkish mastiff was too distracted.

"The howling is off because of his inclinations," Feral said, nodding toward the 117-pound beast.

A second canine, Perdy, attended the protest, but she wasn't talking either.

Kimberly Adams, who works in Friends of Animals' New York office, carried Perdy in a pouch on her front. The black poodle wore purple barrettes in her hair and a sign that read, "Please don't hurt my cousins."

The save-the-wolves slogan resonated with Kate Dunn, visiting from Tampa, who acknowledged she had no detailed knowledge of why the state wants them dead.

"That kind of thing is unnecessary," she said. "We have a lot of wildlife in Florida that are endangered species."

The protest, though, was on Fifth Avenue across from Saks, holy ground for retail America. It was one of the busiest shopping days of the year. And New York can be so world-weary.

" 'Save the wolves?' You gotta be kidding me," one man in a leather jacket murmured to his companion as they swept past.

"What I figure: The animals are on their own," another woman said to her family.

"Save the wolves. Save the seals," scoffed a grandmotherly woman shepherding two children. "Let's go find a bench. I have to sit down."

Reporter Liz Ruskin can be reached at

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